the cake walk, and a lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

The annual carnival at my daughter’s elementary school was this weekend, heralded by a two-week onslaught of fundraising forms and letters, requests for silent auction donations, treasure box prizes, volunteers, and cakes for the cake walk. I did my best to tune out all the notices flying at me, by way of email and the weekly homework folder, but when Madeline begged me to please, please donate a cake, I had a hard time telling her no.

The deadline was Friday morning by 10am, and of course, I didn’t commit to bringing one until mid-week last week. A couple of hectic days at work and late meetings – and, let’s face it, apathy – kept me from doing what I needed to do to get that cake baked. So, hanging my head in shame, I dropped Maddie off at school on Friday morning with a cake box from Publix, a little ladybug cake with red and black frosting – made by the grocery store bakers – nestled inside. I know, I know. How could I?

Truthfully, I didn’t expect to admit my slacker-parenting out loud to anyone, especially any one who knows how much I adore cooking. But, the guilt has been tugging at me, so I needed to get it out there.

The carnival was better than last year – more organized, and with great volunteers running the games and activities smoothly. No thanks to me, of course. I ignored those volunteer request forms.

What drew my daughter’s attention, naturally, was the cake walk. The essence of the game is that twenty people, kids or adults, played a sort of musical chairs. The chairs were numbered, and whatever number you happened to be sitting on when the music stopped was your number. The leaders of the game called out three or four numbers at random, and if your number was called, you won a cake. They played the music three times with each group of people, and at least 6 out of the 20 contestants won cakes, getting to choose their prize off the cake-laden table in the back of the room.

Madeline insisted we play, so we did.  After the first losing round, her competitive nature kicked in, and she demanded we go back to the end of the line and try again. After the second losing round, she was in tears. I promised to bake a special cake at home, and I reassured her that my cake would be better than that store-bought Publix cake she was so hoping to win back. Oliver seemed happy with that plan, but it didn’t have a real effect on Maddie. Sam and Madeline lined up for a third try at the cake walk while Oliver and I got snow cones.

The third try was definitely not the charm. No cake prize.

I’m not sure how we got over the devastation of losing the cake walk game three times, but thankfully, we did. Since then, though, all I’ve heard is that the cake walk is not a fair game. It’s clearly rigged.

When we got home Saturday afternoon, I started baking this lemon layer cake. I did it in part to soothe my daughter’s soul, hoping to make up for the sense of injustice that she felt. And I also did it for me, to assuage my guilt for having sent my daughter to school with a store-bought cake. A store-bought cake that stood out like a sore thumb on that cake table in the classroom where the cake walk was held.

Madeline feels better today. I do too. Amazing what a slice of cake will do to improve one’s mood.

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

This cake would make a lovely celebration cake for a baby shower or birthday, or really, anytime you just want to make someone feel better. I used regular lemons for this cake, but if I'd had Meyer lemons on hand, I certainly would have used those.

Makes two 9-inch round cake layers and about 4-1/2 cups frosting.


Ingredients for Cake:
3 cups (11.25 ounces; 315 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1-1/2 cups (12 ounces; 3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces; 392 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Zest of one lemon
1 cup milk, room temperature
7 large egg whites, room temperature

Ingredients for Frosting:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 box (16 ounces; 453 grams) confectioners sugar


To Prepare Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the cake pans with flour, shaking out excess. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, and scraping down sides of bowl as needed, beat butter and 1-3/4 cup sugar about 3 to 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Beat in extracts and lemon zest. With mixer on low speed, add the flour and milk in an alternating fashion (starting and ending with flour), and beat until just combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

In a clean bowl and using the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat on high speed until glossy, stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes, taking care not to overbeat. Fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the flour/butter mixture, incorporating the egg whites completely. Repeat this two more times until all of the egg white mixture has been folded into the cake batter completely.

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans, smoothing batter, then bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out dry. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes, then invert, peel off parchment, and re-invert cakes so they cool completely with the top facing upward. When completely cool, frost with cream cheese frosting, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To Prepare Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together cream cheese, butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add in sugar, beating until completely blended. Cover and refrigerate to allow the frosting to firm up some and until ready to use.